Mendelssohn: Die Erste Walpurgisnacht - Boyd
MDG Scene 901 1949-6
Classical - Vocal
Mendelssohn: Die Erste Walpurgisnacht; Ruy Blas; Die Schöne Melusine; Hebriden (overtures)
Birgit Remmert (alto)
Jörg Dürmüller (tenor)
Ruben Drole (bass)
Reinhard Mayr (bass)
Douglas Boyd (conductor)
What a racket! The heathen inhabitants of the Brocken are ordered to come armed with pitchforks in “Kommt mit Zacken und mit Gabeln” and to give Christian missionaries a good fright in the riotous howling of the “Rundgeheule.” The young Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy set Goethe’s highly allusive ballad as a furious tone painting situated between the symphony and the choral ballad and magnificently bringing out the fine humor of this German Prince of Poets. Along with three concert overtures, “The First Walpurgis Night” now concludes the Musikkollegium Winterthur’s highly acclaimed MDG Mendelssohn cycle under its principal conductor Douglas Boyd.
Sound and Fury
Behind its sound and fury, “The First Walpurgis Night” is a highly topical argument in favor of religious tolerance. The wild nightmare, very much of earthly origin, nevertheless is unrivaled when it comes to noisemaking and evidently gets the job done: at the end the light emerges victorious, and no pathos would be too much to praise its smoke-free appearance. The soloists and Singakademie of Zurich indeed do have splendid fun with this opulent musical magic.
While Mendelssohn valued Goethe’s poetry above all other literary forms, he picked apart Victor Hugo’s tragedy Ruy Blas. However, this did not stop him from composing an overture to it for a charitable cause and in response to an urgent request. For a repeat performance he perhaps only half in jest entitled it “Overture for the Theater Pension Fund” instead of using the original name. Mendelssohn’s overtures, especially The Hebrides, continue to number among his most beloved compositions. “The Fair Melusine” also fascinated Richard Wagner in his time. The “fishy” beginning of this tale of a water sprite later occurs in the overture to Das Rheingold!
True to Life
Mendelssohn always rejected verbal interpretations of his programmatic works; he thought that musical ideas were too specific to be put into words. The music by itself can be enjoyed all the more impartially – especially in the high-resolution and detail-rich three-dimensional 2+2+2 sound picture distinguishing MDG’s SACDs. But beware: the enthrallingly graphic reproduction of “Walpurgnis Night” may give sensitive individuals a scare! Simply wonderful!
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Das Märchen von der schönen Melusine (Fair Melusina) - Overture, MWV P 12 Op. 32
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Die erste Walpurgisnacht, MWV D 3 Op. 60
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Die Hebriden (The Hebrides / Fingal's Cave) Overture, MWV 7 Op. 26
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Ruy Blas - Overture, MWV P 15 Op. 95
Review by John Broggio - May 15, 2016
A disc of high drama, played very neatly indeed under Boyd's watchful gaze.
As he may well have experienced from the other end of the shaft, so to speak, Boyd clearly evokes the spirit of his former mentor, Claudio Abbado in the opening overture "Ruy Blas", with a wide dynamic range and wonderfully "clean" textures. A notable departure is the use of antiphonally positioned violins, so helpful in clarifying textures and revealing the full musical argument "naturally" that it's strange that the protégé adopted this but not the master. The relationship between the imposing opening chords and the ensuing allegro passages is perfectly judged by Boyd and the wide range adds to the excitement of Mendelssohn's composition. Similar considerations apply to the other two concert overtures, noting only that when heard side-by-side with, say Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Thomas Dausgaard, Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3, Schumann - Piano Concerto - Pires / Gardiner or Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 - Gardiner) that Boyd's tempo choices are somewhat slower but this gives the music space to "breathe" and lets the players give these scores a halo of sound that is most enjoyable. The only caveat to note, and it is relatively minor, is that the small forces do not have the same weight that one might expect from a full symphony orchestra; Boyd's refined conceptions are far removed in approach from those that Thomas Dausgaard has employed in other repertoire.
Where this recording is valuable is this is the first recording of Mendelssohn's (relatively) early Cantata on the ballade by Goethe. The opening overture evokes a storm, making the preceding concert overtures sound very apt couplings. Here, as before, the antiphonal violins really aid the revelation of the musical argument but again one wishes for slightly more heft from the (especially) the lower strings who are arguably a little too polite for the musical drama. The entry of the chorus, following Jörg Dürmüller's fine solos, is occasionally strained at the high points of their opening number but they quickly find their vocal feet as it were. There is a wonderfully imaginative touch from Boyd for the strings at the entrance of Birgit Remmert, who sounds as though she is trying a little too hard. By contrast, Ruben Drole is in fine voice betraying only slight hints of strain when required to rise above tutti passages. For those who enjoy Respighi's La boutique fantasque, the beginning of the fourth section gets perhaps an unconscious nod from Respighi - the delicacy of Boyd's direction & the response of the Winterthur players is very impressive indeed at this point. The chorus in the sixth section erupts with an excitement that has hitherto eluded Boyd and his musicians - if only the remainder of the work had been performed with this degree of élan and gripping drama, this disc would have held good company with (CD only) accounts from the likes of Harnoncourt.
The sound is rich, yet clear although one wonders if the recording is somewhat responsible for the relative lack of depth to the string sound.
Recommended with a few reservations.
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